Mental health, Parenting

Ugly Truth 025: ADHD is Tough Stuff

Dear Readers,

I always knew my son would be exceptional, but I never knew his struggles would be so monumental. His first year of preschool was the year his father and I separated, so we were quick to assume his adjustment period was understandable and temporary. Not only did his troubles not pass, they got worse. Much worse.

This type of milestone is usually joyous, however I soon began receiving phone calls from his preschool on a daily basis. I began to take notice that my son’s tantrums were more severe than what would be considered typical for his age group. He would scream, cry, flail his body, stomp his feet, punch his arms, suffer night terrors, display separation anxiety, and throw furniture. Under extreme distress, he would scratch his own arms and face.

As a young (and dumb) mother, I would often absorb the advice of others too quickly. Many people, including our first family therapist, assumed we needed to make some changes and that I needed to be a stronger disciplinarian. In the spirit of always having room to grow as a parent, I can say consistent discipline is definitely part of the equation of treating children with special needs, but it isn’t an end-all solution. As the years passed, I watched him closely as we worked through hands on play therapy, social skill development, emotional regulation practice, and clearer communication. We made dietary changes, reduced screen time, established routines, tried vitamins and supplements, followed through with consequences, held family meetings, sought a second opinion from a licensed counselor, and increased physical activities. We knew for certain that no matter the outcome, we wanted to exhaust every natural resource available to us before ever considering medication. Our son saw a pediatrician, an allergist, a school psychologist, and family therapist and was ultimately referred out for a behavioral health evaluation. We pursued this, but still no answers came.

As our son grew older, he matured out of some of his maladaptive behaviors only to see the emergence of new ones. His primary years were increasingly difficult, often limited by the scope of his teachers and mentors. We worked hard in therapy and had good days here and there, but we just weren’t seeing the progress we were hoping for. His outbursts were growing increasingly worrisome, although his grades never slipped. In general, our son is attention seeking, active, impulsive, sensory seeking, disruptive, emotional, insightful, and extremely intelligent. He shows a lack of restraint but never a lack of remorse, persistent repetition of words or actions, memory loss and mood swings. He generally demonstrates a proclivity toward anger and lacks social skills. He experiences sleep disturbances, appetite changes, aggression (this is very rare these days – thank goodness), low self-worth and has even talked openly of suicide on more than one occasion.

It goes without saying that our love and worry for our son put an enormous strain on our family dynamic. Not only was I faced with the grief of acceptance, but I had the public school system leaning into me one on side, while his father was pushing in the other direction. Suddenly, I found myself with three thorns in my side. I felt stranded in the middle, and I knew the only way I could cope with this would be with some form of healthy detachment. I knew I needed the relief of a slight emotional unhinging in order to face my son’s behavior as objectively as possible, rather than take it personal. I knew I had to a find a way to apply my professional experience as a Behavioral Therapist to my personal life without having a complete and total nervous breakdown. I knew I needed to advocate for my son free from the opinions of others. I’m not going to lie to you and tell you I have been completely successful, because that’s just not true. I can’t tell you how many mistakes I’ve made, or how many nights I’ve cried in my bathroom nauseous with worry. Still, circumstances in which you feel that you have no choice will teach you just what you are capable of. Fortunately for all of us, I was designed to advocate for mental health.

Suspecting Attention Deficit Hyper Activity Disorder (ADHD), and possibly Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), I went to his teachers with a plan. As a mother, I have started every school year by gently approaching, reassuring and thanking my son’s teachers. I do this for three reasons.

1.) I recognize that they have the most important and most underappreciated job in the world.

2.) I realize that my son can be difficult.

and 3.) I want them to know early and often that they can always come to me to voice their thoughts and concerns.

This concerted effort has served us in more ways than I can iterate. Likewise, we have learned the absence of this unified front comes with enormous consequences.

In speaking with his teachers, we soon began to investigate every possible solution without a formal diagnosis. We discussed the problem behavior we were observing, potential triggers, possible areas of change at home and at school, guidance strategies, positive reinforcement, motivation, social skills development, counseling, occupational therapy, accommodations, ARD committee meetings, more therapy, more dietary changes, and more consistency. (I soon learned that despite our best efforts, our nation’s public school system does a great disservice to children with special needs specifically, and all children in general.) Toward the end of his 2nd Grade year, we finally began to see the upswing of all of our hard work.

Our son has grown immensely in the last year, and he deserves the credit. Many of his extreme behaviors have diminished – praise God! However, he still displays some neurological symptoms like facial tics, as well as an inability to self-regulate or integrate socially. This will be addressed at our Doctor’s appointment next week at Moore Mental Health & Behavioral Services where our son will finally be evaluated and diagnosed. We will all be given the opportunity to remain instrumental in mapping out a treatment plan that best suits our family. Naturally, we have all kinds of mixed emotions about this. Still, I feel this is the next step in armoring our little one with all the support he can possibly receive from the vantage point of long over due relief and early intervention in the face of his emotional turmoil.

In the meantime, I would love to hear from parents in similar situations. Do you have concerns for your little ones that extend beyond the realm of typical worry? What is challenging you the most right now? How has ADHD or other sensory disorders impacted your life?

In closing, we must remember that decisions surrounding mental health and our loved ones are never easy. We must remember to pull together through education and support rather than stigmatizing one another through harsh criticism. We must remember there should never be shame attached to seeking help.

You’re not alone.

**If you’re a mental health survivor or mental health provider and want to tell your story – please email me at!**

For more excellent insight and entertainment through a collaborative approach to all things mental health, including a guest post from yours truly, visit the Blunt Therapy Blog by Randy Withers, LPC! For additional perspectives on suicide prevention from master level mental health providers visit, 20 Professional Therapists Share Their Thoughts on Suicide!

In collaboration with Luis Posso, an Outreach Specialist from, Deskraven is now offering guides on depression and suicide prevention to its readers. For more information on understanding the perils of addiction visit, Substance Abuse and Suicide: A Guide to Understanding the Connection and Reducing Risk! In addition, for a comprehensive depression resource guide from their sister project at Columbus Recovery Center visit, Dealing with Depression!

2 thoughts on “Ugly Truth 025: ADHD is Tough Stuff”

  1. Sadly this is not new. I have experienced problems with the school system when one of my children was in kindergarten. I would get phone calls daily from the teacher the nurse or another staff member and sometimes more than once a day. I contacted the principal and informed the principle that these phone calls are not appropriate they are inconsiderate and unacceptable due to the fact my child is required by state law to be in a public school system and therefore calling me at work multiple times daily is not the solution for any kind of problem my child is having. The school nurse had suggested a mental health provider visit for my child and I did schedule an appointment and unfortunately there are only certain days that’s Mental Health Providers are available due to lack of mental health providers. Two weeks later I received in my mailbox a notice from the school nurse claiming that there will be a social services report sent to the County due to my failure to provide my child with adequate Medical Care. I again called the principal and let them know that my child cannot be seen immediately just because it is requested by a public health nurse first of all. Second of all I let the principal know that threatening to turn me into Social Services is also not a productive or appropriate way to handle children who are having behavior issues and if the school that my child is going to is not able to come up with a solution then maybe the School Board needs to be contacted as well as the state of Minnesota. I am not an experienced person in dealing with behavior issues are mental health issues in children. I as well have had to debates and override the father who was insistent that there needs to be zero intervention 0 i e p or adaptive classes and zero medications. So I myself have had to stand up against the school system stand up against the other parents and sometimes stand up against my own family due to there is not a wide acceptance of behavior or mental health disorders and there has been a lot of negativity regarding medications and even in the media. Usually when there is a school shooting or anything regarding bullying at school there is a mental health diagnosis related to that with the kids involved and therefore Society can view this as people who have ADHD or people who have autism have Tendencies towards these negative and certain actions against others. My children are in their late 20s now and still I do not see any progress being made or any other considerations or future Solutions for the school system to be able to appropriately support these kids during their Elementary years and throughout their middle and high school years as well. I believe the problem is that their brains are developing and processing information on you know a yearly level so what may have been the situation I year ago is not going to be the situation this year. And I do not feel that the school system or the school boards are even trained or adequately able to direct these children and make things a positive experience. They seem to call the parents daily they seem to want to blame the parents and the parents are supposed to be the ones to come up with the solution and figure everything out well in the meantime the school is failing to see what they can do and come up with with some problem solving strategies on their own. I know that schools are limited and funding is limited but maybe there can be some extra education continuing education regarding kids that have these issues or needs because isolating them makes them feel more insecure makes them feel more depressed because now they are separated from their classmates and they don’t know why because they don’t understand what’s going on and they don’t understand how they’re supposed to be and how their brains are supposed to work so I do think that the responsibility needs to be put more onto the schools and less on the parents because we’re at a loss as well and we need to work together instead of playing the blame game and instead of looking at things as you know let’s just put your child over here and we’re just going to isolate him from everything and see what happens and that’s not a productive environment either first these kids. Enclosing all I can say or suggest is parents stand up for yourselves it is scary at times you may have six people in a room and you and the six people are from the school system and they’re looking at you and you may feel overwhelmed and outnumbered but do not back down do not let them intimidate you if you need support for when you have meetings like this seek support from the community from your providers if you have a counselor or therapist do not back down do not let other people advise you or tell you what to do what to do you are the parents and you know what’s best for your kids so find an advocate and speak out and let these people know that you will stand for your kid and you can be respectful but the important thing that matters is your kid and not what other people say think or want you to do. Thank you for listening.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Bten,
    First of all – WOW! – Thank you for the longest reply I have ever received. I certainly agree with you that you have to advocate for the best interest of your child. Mental health concerns in children are multifaceted and therefore require a multifaceted response.

    I know exactly what it feels like to sit a table with 12 department heads all telling you how to guide the ship. It wasn’t until we pulled in resources from outside the school district that we started to get some validation and true support. We knew that something was wrong and that many things needed to change, but we also knew we wanted to keep our some integrated in a positive environment that would nurture his needs, off medication, and given the accommodations he needed to succeed.

    My son is a tough love kid. That means he needs consistent discipline and the benefits of a close meaningful bond with the adults in his life. Having worked in behavioral health and working as an advocate, I had a wealth of knowledge going in – and even for me it was overwhelming and difficult. By the end of his 1st Grade year the entire school knew who I was due to countless meetings, conferences, and district wide e-mails about how to promote positive behavioral support in classrooms without medication, isolation, or meaningless damaging consequences.

    For us, it has been all about balance. Parents ARE accountable. School districts ARE accountable. Communities ARE accountable. We are seeing a rise in these populations and until we figure out why, we need to learn to adjust as a society who understands multi-disciplinary action. That requires cross-training for parents, teachers, care providers, community members and health care providers. That means more people willing to say it out loud, and willing to understand positive behavior change as something that requires very hard work. That means more people willing to make changes at home, work and school.

    When it comes to medication, you have to weigh the risk with the benefit. I have always felt and continue to feel that children do not belong on psychotropic medication unless and until their quality of life is compromised, and/or every other resource has been exhausted. These medications change and save lives, but they also have very serious side effects and should be closely monitored. Our son is 8 years old now, so he is old enough to participate in his own care, voice his concerns, and self-report. It has made all the difference.

    Finally, parents have to take a step back and do their best to be unemotional about these things. Our first instinct is to question our parenting, get defensive, play the blame game and eat ourselves alive. The truth is, we always have areas to improve as parents, but neurological disorders do not spring from the environment. They are genetic medical conditions, and should be treated as such. ADHD takes a village, but there is hope. There are plenty of positive take aways to be had here.

    Thank you for sharing. ❤


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